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Pope to attend La Scala concert

Pope Benedict XVI's decision to attend a concert at La Scala demonstrates the pontiff's interest in culture and is a great honor for the venue, the theater's music director Daniel Barenboim said Friday.

Benedict, an accomplished pianist himself who is known for his keen appreciation of music, will attend an evening concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Barenboim on Friday, the first of three days of events focused on the family.

"This is a great honor for our theater, that the pope has come to Milan and that he comes to La Scala. It is not an obligation that the pope comes to La Scala," Barenboim told reporters Friday.

It demonstrations that La Scala "is an important cultural institute" and that "one of his preoccupations is culture."

It is the second time a pope has attended a concert at La Scala. John Paul II attended a concert of Riccardo Muti conducting selections of Verdi in 1983.

The pope will greet the faithful in the square outside Milan's cathedral after his arrival Friday afternoon for the seventh World Encounter of Families — a welcome pastoral respite from an embarrassing and damaging leaks scandal at the Vatican that has engulfed the pontiff's personal butler.

Then, a concert at the nearby La Scala theater will be followed by a private prayer inside the cathedral with a special focus on the victims of the twin temblors that rocked the Emilia-Romagna region last month.

The weekend events include a meeting at Milan's San Siro stadium on Saturday with youths who recently received the sacrament of confirmation, and an open-air Mass expected to attract 1 million followers on Sunday.

Barenboim said the choice of Beethoven's Ninth was an easy one, noting that it is one of the most accessible pieces written for an orchestra.

"We needed to find an important piece. We can't play something frivolous for the pope," Barenboim said.